"Life Jacket" on a kid playing in the waves? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 48 Old 09-05-2010, 08:46 PM - Thread Starter
 
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A certain family member has his child wear a life jacket, designed for the child to wear on a boat, to "swim"/play in the waves when they go to the ocean. Not while they're on a boat (well.... actually, he does also wear it on the boat) but also has him wear it when they are just hanging out at the beach with kick boards & such. You can't really swim there unless you're a good enough swimmer to go out past where the waves are breaking, which this kid doesn't do yet. They don't live near the beach, so they are only there for a few short visits (a week or less each time) in the summer.

We're talking about a beach with good-sized waves, side currents (I forget what you call them) and sometimes a strong undertow. I grew up going to that beach (although my parents took us a bit farther down, to the part where they have lifeguards). Never did I see anyone wearing a life vest to play in the waves/ swim. I don't know why, but I feel like it would not make the child safer. Might it even cause a problem?

This dad *will* actually listen to me if I offer advice, but that's b/c he's realized I usually know what I'm talking about when it comes to safety, more than he does at least.... and I make sure my explanation makes sense. In this case I don't really *know* if there's a danger, so I haven't said anything, but does anyone know if this is safe or not?

Just wanted to clarify that unless it is really dangerous, I won't waste my time bringing it up.... just something seems weird about it to me.
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#2 of 48 Old 09-05-2010, 08:56 PM
 
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The best thing about it is that it raises the child with the expectation that water play must have a life jacket. With kids, exceptions are difficult to teach. "You have to have one in the river, but not on the banks. You have to wear one DEEP in the water, but not in the waves." There are too many variables...how deep is too deep? How strong of an undertow is too strong? Our area has lost many kids in lakes...parents swear up and down that they weren't out that deep. There's usually a hole, kid loses footing, gets pulled out just enough to not get footing again. Same for the rivers around here...just not a chance I'm willing to take.

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#3 of 48 Old 09-05-2010, 08:58 PM
 
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-at lakes I am less concerned, but remain within arms reach up until at least 6-7yo, after that they still need to be in my direct line of sight
-at my Dads, that's on the ocean, they wear life jackets on the dock/boat. There is no shoreline or beach, just straight drop-offs/rocky cliffs (yeah, thats another thread on safety!! )

I'm curious to see what others think...

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#4 of 48 Old 09-05-2010, 09:29 PM
 
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I vote to wear the life jacket. I don't think you said how old the child was, but I don't see any problem with the life jacket other than it might give some children a false sense of security and make them a bit more reckless. But, if I am going to have a child get knocked over by a wave I'd rather the life jacket give me a little extra time to get to them.

It might make it a little more awkward for them to stand up/swim smoothly, but a proper coast guard approved jacket should help keep their head above water.

I also vote for a BRIGHT color life jacket so they are easier to spot. (Camouflage or navy blue jackets are not the way to go)

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#5 of 48 Old 09-05-2010, 09:34 PM
 
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As long as it's not a substitute for parental supervision, I'd be totally for the life jacket. I got into a sticky situation at a beach once when I was about 11 and probably would have drowned if not for the fact that I was still wearing the life jacket I had used while out on a boat earlier that morning.
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#6 of 48 Old 09-05-2010, 09:44 PM
 
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I don't see the big deal about wearing the life vest to play. I'm usually pretty go w/ the flow, but when water is involved, that has to be a v quick rescue.

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#7 of 48 Old 09-05-2010, 09:57 PM
 
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I always put a lifejacket on my child when we play at the ocean beach. She is only 3.5 and not a good swimmer. I figure if a rogue wave comes crashing over her head and pulls her out, the lifejacket will draw her to the surface and hopefully give me a window to swim out and save her. Without a life jacket if a rogue wave pulled her in she might not surface agian and just be gone.

Most of my experience with ocean swimming is in northern Californa, where the water is icy cold (shocking), and rogue waves can and have pulled both adults and children into the water. I might be more lax about it on a different beach with lifeguards present (Waikiki beach in Hawaii comes to mind as one where I would let my kid play without a jacket.)

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#8 of 48 Old 09-05-2010, 10:09 PM
 
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We have never put a life jacket on my son while playing in the ocean. He is always in arms reach though! It only takes a second to be knocked down by a wave.
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#9 of 48 Old 09-05-2010, 11:03 PM
 
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If I wasn't prepared/didn't want to hang out w/ him and run in the waves myself, I'd do it. Only to help pull him back up if he fell in the wrong spot - cause' it'll still take me a minute to get over there if I'm sitting and talking w/ friends, you know? DS1 knows if he's playing in the lake he needs a life jacket, and he's OK with it. I honestly don't see a darn thing wrong w/ it, or why you'd talk to the dad about it...
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#10 of 48 Old 09-05-2010, 11:58 PM
 
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I have been told NOT to let my kids wear their life preservers in the ocean. The reason I was given: the buoyancy makes it harder for the child to maintain control and easier for an undertow to pull them out. I STILL put them on my kids because they are not strong enough swimmers to handle the ocean without a "safety net". Like other posters said- I believe the life preservers could save my child's life my buying my extra time to find them and get them out should they loose control.
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#11 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 01:15 AM
 
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I live in HI and only see life jackets on tourists. I want my children to learn how to handle themselves in the ocean (under my supervision, of course) and learn what the currents feel like, as they feel different than a swimming pool. They also take swim lessons, and have for about 4-5 yrs, including lessons at the beach. My baby (15 mo) is in the ocean every weekend, usually with us, sometimes I'm sitting at the shoreline while she splashes around me. My older ones started snorkeling with us about age 4 or 5.

If it's rough enough to need a life jacket, my kids aren't going in the water because that usually means the rip currents are too strong. (usually only happens in winter)

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#12 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 01:29 AM
 
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I am very against the use of lifejackets in this manner. It gives the parents & children a safe sense of security & doesn't teach the child anything, not water safety or how to swim.

I will admit I occasionally put a lifejacket on ds to play in the water for a few minutes but then we take it off again. I do it more to give him a sense of how the buoyancy feels different in the lifejacket & for something fun to do.

I cringe everytime I see parents doing this with their children. I think there are some children who believe they cannot get wet without being in a lifejacket.

Plus, think of how darn uncomfortable they are!

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#13 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 01:46 AM
 
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I live near a beach. It has rip currents, strong undertow and waves. Every year people drown when they get carried off by the under tow or the current. Last weekend 2 teenagers drowned after getting caught in a rip tide. On Friday a man drowned just across the state line. Almost always they claim they were not far out, and then someone looked up and they were far out or gone. Sometimes we have double drownings, were a child gets caught in the undertow, and a parent swims out to save them and gets caught themselves. It takes days or weeks to find the bodies.

Young children and non-swimmers should, in my opinion, wear life jackets. And everyone should be supervised like a hawk, and attention paid to beach warnings (here there is a flag system that indicates if its safe to go in). A beach with waves and tide like that is NOT a good place to learn to swim, or for a beginner to practice. I also think an adult should always be in the water with the child. Sure, it looks odd, but the kid is safer with one on than without one.
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#14 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 01:54 AM
 
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Where we live, there are not only rip currents, but also 'sneaker waves' that come up higher than expected. They can easily knock a child off their feet and into the water. So, if I had a non-swimmer playing in the waves, I'd put the life jacket on. (As it is, the temperature is also rather frigid, so there isn't much playing in the waves.)

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#15 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 02:39 AM
 
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The younger kids here wear a life jacket when playing in the water at the beach. If the child trips in the wrong place at the wrong time and goes under, the ocean can and most of will pull them out. With a life jacket they at least stay on the surface where an adult or life guard can spot and catch them. The ocean can be a very dangerous place, even close to shore.

ETA: Where we live, we don't get strong rip tides and the undertows are not nearly as strong, still a non-swimmer is advised to either wear a life jacket or stay close to someone who can swim well. Beaches also tend to have an area cordoned off for swimmers that is fairly neutral though you don't have to stay there.

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#16 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 03:04 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Interesting to read all the responses! As I said, I hadn't seen anyone doing it before and it seemed odd. I'm not much of a beach goer as an adult.... especially not when it's hot & sunny. Sometimes I'll take the kids for a walk on the beach when we visit my parents for Thanksgiving.

I was leaning toward thinking it would be an encumbrance and might cause some problem... it definitely doesn't seem like it would help the kid learn to be safe in the ocean.

This has me wondering what effect a life vest would have, in a situation I encountered a number of times when I used to go in the water there.... ~ when the undertow drags you down & the wave flips you around / upside down & you can't tell which way is up until you hit the bottom or come out into the air. Would it make any difference? I have never actually been in the water wearing anything like a life vest...
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#17 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 03:05 AM
 
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Imanother one on the Pacific Coast. With the undertow and riptides common to this area, i wouldnt risk my child out of arms reach without one.

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#18 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 06:42 AM
 
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If you're wearing a life jacket in the water, even under the water, you can tell which way is up because the life jacket pulls at you trying to do what it is designed to do which is take you to the surface.

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#19 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 08:28 AM
 
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Yup. Thats the point of a life jacket - it utterly eliminates the confusion as to which way is 'up' - its the way its trying to pull you towards. And even in the ocean it'll pull a young toddler to the surface if a rogue wave knocks them down and pulls them out where they can't stand up (or at least where they aren't able to when surprised). And then you can find them. *THATS* why ds1 would wear a life jacket when playing in the waves in the ocean unless I was *RIGHT THERE* with him - so if a freak wave came he'd still pop up to the surface, and I could go grab him without searching, cause' he can't swim. And we both know it, and thats why he wears a life jacket.
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#20 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 09:56 AM
 
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Since this isn't your child I have to say my opinion is "butt out". How would you feel if you told the dad you didn't think it was necessary and he shouldn't put one on the kid and he follows your advice. What if the kid is then at the ocean again, without a life jacket because that was your advice, and he drowns? That's not something I could live with so I would seriously MYOB and let the dad/parents do what they feel is necessary. For some people that's using a life jacket, for others it's not. But it has to be what the PARENT is comfortable with.

My ds goes to the ocean maybe once a year. He can't swim. He has autism and has impulse control issues (he has jumped straight into a lake before without thinking twice). We do not use a life jacket with ds while we're at the ocean. But we feel comfortable with that because there are 2 of us (dp and myself) and only 1 kid. We take turns taking him into the ocean HOLDING HIS HAND the whole time. If he goes in the water, one of us goes with him. When we're sitting down playing in the sand, we're sitting far enough from the water that if he jumped up and ran for the water we would be able to catch him.

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#21 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 10:27 AM
 
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When our children are young and not great swimmers we will often intentionally not use floaties on them in the pool (we don't live near an ocean) so that they can learn how to manage themselves and get a sense of reality. They prefer to use floaties because it makes them more independent and can go where they want in any water without fatiguing as quickly, but sometimes we will intentionally "forget" the floaties because we don't want them to rely on it, yk? The life preservers are terrible for learning to swim because they force the child onto his or her back in water any deeper than waist high.

Having said that, this is at a pool where there are no waves (unless you count the crazy teenagers jumping in nearby) and no undertow. I could see how someone who lives near an ocean and wants their child to learn how to be a very good swimmer in an ocean would make the decision to avoid life preservers in certain circumstances (like the pp who lives in HI) because looking at safety *long term* this might be the safer approach. But in the situation you describe I would definitely be using life preservers.

In any case, I agree with Steph that this is not a situation to offer your opinion. When it comes to safety I think the parent is the only one to make that call. As a parent when I'm taking a calculated risk I always ask myself "if things go wrong will I feel like I made the best decision I could with the information I had?" I would not want that on my shoulders for someone else's child.

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#22 of 48 Old 09-06-2010, 10:35 AM
 
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We have 3 small children--two of which have special needs that impact impulse control and critical thinking skills and one is a toddler. They wear life jackets any time they're in water past their waist--they can't swim and don't have impulse control. They would go into an unsafe situation without thinking twice (and has...my 6 year old was walking on a pool deck and without thinking almost walked right into the deep end of the pool without realizing that it was not the same as walking on the deck. The only reason he didn't is because I caught him as his foot was over the water.)

There are three reasons they wear life jackets--one is because when they are at the lake or otherwise near water, I am usually the only one with all three of them. The second is because it helps them see which way is up if they fall in. Third is because when a child drowns, it is really quiet--they don't thrash or scream--they sink. It can happen in the blink of an eye. With a life jacket, they will float and I will be able to get to them instantly if they happen to get into trouble.

So, for a non-swimmer especially, life jackets are important parts of being near water.

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#23 of 48 Old 09-07-2010, 11:08 AM
 
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I didn’t use one with my son. I agree to an extent that I want them to learn how to handle themselves in the water. My daughter, however, is another story. She has no fear in the water. She jumps away from me and tells me “I can swim” when she clearly can’t. I have lost her at the bottom of the swimming pool. I finally found her and pulled her up by the neck. She wasn’t fazed at all. Really, no fear. So we use a life vest (a cute puddle jumper). Otherwise, I am fighting with her constantly to stop her from trying to jump away from me into the deep water. She is almost 3. The swim lessons around here start at 3. (My son started at 3.5.) I decided I can’t wait so I signed her up for private one-on-one lessons. I want to get her out of the life vest as soon as possible. The rate things are going in lessons, she won’t need one next summer.
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#24 of 48 Old 09-07-2010, 11:26 AM
 
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When I was growing up, we were all decently strong swimmers (dad was a former lifeguard, all of us used to water and in pools from a young age). But when we were at a "natural" body of water--for us, usually one of the Great Lakes--we wore life jackets to play in the waves until age 6 or 7.
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#25 of 48 Old 09-07-2010, 12:12 PM
 
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I think it's an excellent idea to have a life vest on a child at the ocean. My memories are of the outer banks in North Carolina. The waves were really rough at times, the beach without a lifeguard, and my brother who was about 6 or 7, was almost dragged out. He couldn't get back in on his own. I could barely get myself back in (9 years older). Thankfully my uncle was a strong enough swimmer to help him back.

I don't use floatation devices on ds in lakes, ponds, or pools. But I sure wouldn't feel "safe" just because he was wearing one at the ocean.

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#26 of 48 Old 09-07-2010, 04:07 PM
 
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Originally Posted by lifeguard View Post
I am very against the use of lifejackets in this manner. It gives the parents & children a safe sense of security & doesn't teach the child anything, not water safety or how to swim.

I will admit I occasionally put a lifejacket on ds to play in the water for a few minutes but then we take it off again. I do it more to give him a sense of how the buoyancy feels different in the lifejacket & for something fun to do.

I cringe everytime I see parents doing this with their children. I think there are some children who believe they cannot get wet without being in a lifejacket.

Plus, think of how darn uncomfortable they are!
I totally disagree with this.
My children were raised on the water and wore lifejackets every day. On the boat, on the wharves and yes, at the beach.
While they never gave me a false senses of security they did allow my three toddlers and myself a little more freedom than 'arms reach' would ever allow, especially on a beach with surf rolling in.

They're great swimmers, learned very young, and have a deep knowledge of water safety and a respect for the ocean. And while we, not the lifejackets taught them these things, the lifejackets kept them safe while doing it.

And uncomfortable? I would think brain damage from a near drowning, a spinal injury from being slammed into the sand by a rogue wave, or a body recovery would be far, far more uncomfortable than even the bulkiest lifejacket.

OP - I wouldn't say anything, the family in question is doing what they feel is best for their child. I would be seriously ticked if someone questioned me on it.
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#27 of 48 Old 09-07-2010, 05:47 PM
 
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In a pool with proper supervision, I'm pretty opposed to lifejackets or other flotation devices. They give parents and kids a false sense of security and can be huge hindrances to properly learning to swim. But in the ocean or a choppy lake, a Coast Guard-approved PFD is a very good idea, especially for little ones who may not be strong swimmers or have the best impulse control yet. On some beaches, even an ankle-high wave can knock a grown adult down and sweep them out; you can imagine how much riskier it is for someone who is barely three feet tall.

22-month-old DS doesn't wear floaties or a PFD at the pool or at our summer lake, because both are very calm, controlled environments. But when we take him to the beach--ocean or bay--he wears a lifejacket. And I'm a former lifeguard and swim instructor and never out of arm's reach! But it only takes a second for a kid to slip under the surface and disappear forever. As a PP pointed out, drowning is nothing like what you see in the movies. Usually it's totally silent and unnoticeable. With a brightly colored lifejacket on, I will be able to immediately find him even if he can't call for help. Without one...the odds are slim.

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#28 of 48 Old 09-08-2010, 04:51 PM
 
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My ds only wears a life jacket on boats that are powered by something other than me (sail boat, speed boat), or in rapids (where there are rocks that could knock him out).

But generally he does not wear one for things like kyaking in a lake, pedel boats, going to the beach (which we do several times a week)

He is a VERY good swimmer, but cannot swim and panicks when wearing a life jacket, which makes him freak out and drink water/choke on it. So if he is in a situation where I can grab him easily, he doesnt wear one - the times he does wear one he isnt actuall in the water with it on.

They require them at the waterpark for kids under 42", and it sucks for him to go in any water over his head because he doesnt know how to swim with one on. Without one, he is fine and can float on his back/swim/tread water - in our pool at home he can only touch on the stairs, but swims all over it no problem.

My vote is - its not unsafe for him to wear one in the ocean, UNLESS wearing one = less supervision. If he gets tumbled he will still go under even with one on, could swallow water, hit his head on a rock etc.
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#29 of 48 Old 09-08-2010, 05:09 PM
 
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Originally Posted by peainthepod View Post
On some beaches, even an ankle-high wave can knock a grown adult down and sweep them out; you can imagine how much riskier it is for someone who is barely three feet tall.
A little over a year ago, a family at our school lost it's mother and youngest child (5) because they drowned after being knocked over in ankle deep water by a rogue wave at a beach known for having a vicious rip current. The older daughter escaped because she managed to outrun the wave before it hit her.

If the little one had been wearing a life jacket, she'd probably be alive today.

I think it makes good sense to have a child wear a pfd at a beach. How many children actually know how to get out of a rip current?
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#30 of 48 Old 09-08-2010, 06:05 PM
 
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I will say in my case, nearly all the beaches we go to barely have any waves, almost totally flat. The water just barely laps against the sand.

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